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Biology of Sharks in the Bahamas

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"If you're passionate about learning about sharks, especially in their environment, if you're not afraid of swimming next to an 8-foot Caribbean reef shark, and if you don't mind the tropical ocean as one of your classrooms, then this rigorous introduction to shark biology might be just what you're looking for." -Dan Abel

This faculty-led program is an exceptional opportunity for marine science field experience in shark biology at the Bimini Biological Field Station (BBFS) in the Bahamas. The course features lectures, discussions, analysis of research papers, frequent field trips, video presentations, and personal encounters with several species of large, actively feeding, and free-swimming sharks. Lectures focus on broad aspects of the biology of sharks, including diversity, evolution, anatomy, physiology, behavior, ecology, fisheries, captive biology, conservation, and biomedical uses. The majority of the academic work will be field-oriented. This fieldwork will introduce students to research techniques used at Coastal Carolina University and BBFS, where research on sharks has been ongoing for more than 20 years.

Before leaving for Bimini, students will participate in a number of classroom activities (lectures, discussions) focused on introducing them to the biology of sharks and their trip to Bimini. We will take a half-day research cruise on the R/V Coastal II, during which we will set several experimental shark longlines. Any sharks captured will be identified, measured, sampled for DNA, and tagged and released. After a short but rigorous training session and observing the experienced Coastal Carolina University shark team set and retrieve the longlines and handle the sharks, students will be given an opportunity to do the same.

Biology of Sharks is truly the course that keeps on giving: after graduating, many students return to BBFS as volunteers or interns, and several have earned paid positions at the lab.

Physical Requirements: Students will spend substantial time on a daily basis in and around the water and on boats. All participants should be in good physical condition, must be able to swim and snorkel, and must be able to stay in the water for up to an hour. Students must be able to tolerate tropical heat and sun conditions and have no medical contraindications for water activities. A swimming test is a prerequisite of the course. The program will be capped at 15 students per request of our BBFS partners.


Course Information

Students participating in this program will be enrolled in either the undergraduate- or graduate-level course and lab for a total of 4 credits.

MSCI 473 and MSCI 473L Biology of Sharks. (3 credits + 1 credit). (Prereq: BIOL 122 and permission of instructor). An introduction to the biology of sharks. Lecture component covers evolution, anatomy, behavior, natural history, physiology, conservation, and ecology. Lab topics will include taxonomy, diversity, anatomy, and physiology. Field activities will include capture, identification, work-up, and tagging of sharks; telemetry tracking; and observation of shark behavior in both their natural habitat and captivity. This course and laboratory will be held on campus, in local waters, and at BBFS.  
Instructor: Dan Abel

MSCI 573 and MSCI 573L Biology of Sharks. (3 credits + 1 credit). (Prereq: permission of instructor). This is a graduate-level course and lab on the biology of sharks. 
Instructor: Dan Abel


Program Leaders 

Daniel Abel, Professor, Department of Marine Science
dabel@coastal.edu, 843-349-2257

Daniel C. Abel earned his Ph.D. in marine biology from the University of California San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and he was postdoctoral fellow in marine biomedicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. His research focuses on the physiology and ecology of sharks and rays, and he is co-author of the textbooks Environmental Issues: Looking Towards a Sustainable Future (4th ed.), Environmental Oceanography, and Environmental Geology, and the forthcoming books Shark Biology and Conservation and Apex Predators of the World. He has been an award-winning environmental columnist, was founding director of CCU's Sustainability Initiative from 2006-2012, and currently serves on the board of directors of the Dogwood Alliance, a forest protection non-profit. Dr. Abel taught at sea and in more than 30 countries on the M/V Explorer with Semester at Sea in spring 2010 and summer 2012, 2013, and 2014. His annual Biology of Sharks course has been held at BBFS for more than 20 years. Dr. Abel is a Senior Fellow of the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development, and he is the inaugural Honors Distinguished Faculty Fellow at Coastal Carolina University. He is a native South Carolinian and resides in Pawley’s Island, SC.

Samuel Gary, Boat Operations Officer
sjgary@coastal.edu, 843-274-4204

Mr. Gary has experience as a co-leader for this program and is a licensed boat captain. He has also taught Navigation and Seamanship at Coastal Carolina University. Gary is a shark specialist and has been the trip co-leader for the past 12 years.


Accommodations and Meals

Students will stay in accommodations located on-site and owned by Bimini Biological Field Station. For one night, the group will stay in a hotel in Florida.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner will be provided at BBFS, with one group meal on the last evening. Students will be responsible for snacks and lunches on the road.


Additional Program Information

About the Bimini Biological Field Station (BBFS): This is a world-renown center of excellence in the study of shark biology, and the director, Dr. Samuel “Sonny” Gruber, is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading shark experts. During our stay at BBFS, we will be either participating in lectures, on a variety of field trips (see examples below), or engaging in informal discussions about sharks, careers, environmental issues, or ways that students can work their way back to the lab as a volunteer or staff member (numerous CCU students have done so!). Although the course schedule is rigidly set (e.g., breakfast at 0730, lecture from 0830 – 1000, feed lemon sharks and rays in shark pen from 1030 – 1200, etc.), we are at the mercy of the weather and the success of longlines. So a lecture might be interrupted by the presence of a 12-foot tiger shark on a longline, in which case we grab our snorkel gear, throw on a life vest (a Coastal Carolina University requirement), hop in one of the boats, and motor the 15 minutes to the line. Once there, we will watch as the shark is worked up, then while the animal is tethered to the boat, we will get in the water and take pictures of one of the most magnificent beasts on the planet. The entire week, which flies by way too fast, is a combination of opportunistic lectures, insightful discussions, slowly acquiring a sense of place in the Bahamas, and sharks, sharks, and more sharks.

What students take away from this course, in addition to learning about the biology of sharks, is the observation that a passionate group of dedicated people – the folks at BBFS – can accomplish great things when they care enough and work hard enough to gain insight into a problem. This is a lesson that never fades.

More about the Course: One student described the course as a little sleep, a lot of great food, and more knowledge of sharks than he had imagined could be crammed into such a short amount of time. The lectures are comprehensive, but the field trips become the course’s lab, and science, it is said, is learned in the lab. Students will do some or all of the following activities: 

  • Telemetry-tracking of sharks with surgically implanted ultrasonic transmitters

  • Collecting juvenile lemon sharks with gill-nets in their mangrove nursery grounds; Biological workup includ‌ing morphometrics and tissue sampling for genetic analyses; implanting PIT microtags, followed by recovery and release of the captured individuals

  • Observation of juvenile lemon shark behavior in mangrove nursery systems

  • Shark handling and husbandry class

  • Observation of bite force tests on sharks (from shark pens)

  • Several observational shark dives (snorkeling only), enabling students to view several species of free-swimming, actively feeding elasmobranchs in a natural setting. Species observed include Carribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi), blacknose shark (C. acronotus), blacktip shark (C. limbatus), nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum), Caribbean sharpnose shark (Rhizoprionodon porosus) and the southern stingray (Dasyatis americana), and others.  


Cost to Participate = Program Fee + (Number of Credits x Tuition Rate) + Out-of-pocket Expenses

The tuition for this course is for Maymester term. 

Included in Program Fee: Coach bus transportation from CCU campus to Florida; charter flight from Florida to Bahamas; accommodations in Bimini; meals; excursions; course T-shirt; textbook; longline supplies; GoPro camera; first aid kit; emergency medical insurance ($1.80 a day for every day traveling). 

Not Included in Program Fee:

  • Estimated out-of-pocket expenses:$200 for equipment to include a mask, fins, snorkel, and weight belt (but no weights as these will be provided in Bimini) plus approximately $35 for travel meals and snacks not covered by the program fee. Please note that this estimate will vary based on individual spending habits and does not cover the cost of a new passport. Students should ask their program leaders for more details about estimated out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Pre-departure housing: Students are in the Bahamas for the first week of the Maymester term, and then they return to CCU's campus to complete the course. Students will be responsible for their own housing during that time period in Conway and will also be responsible for meals and expenses. Students should confirm with their program leaders the travel dates before securing housing.
Discounted Tuition for Education Abroad Students: $366/credit
CCU credits  Program Fees Tuition 

Technology Fee
($5/credit)

Out-of-pocket
Expenses
Cost to
Participate
4 credits   $4439  $1464 $20 $235  $6158

 


Payment Schedule

Payments Due Date Amount Due
Deposit Oct. 30 $300 (refundable before commitment deadline Dec. 5)
Program Fee Payment Feb. 11 $4377
Tuition and Technology Fee Payment May 9 $1464

Deposits can be made in person at Student Accounts or by phone. After acceptance to the program, the payment of the program fee as well as payment of tuition can be made online through WebAdvisor or in-person/by phone through Student Accounts. Tuition charges are distinct and different from program fee charges. Please note that payments made with a debit or credit card will be charged a service fee of 2.7 percent. For more information about methods of payment, visit Student Accounts. 

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